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With visual artists, I am unendingly interested in locating correlations between their work and their daily lives. Sometimes the analogies are striking. Other times, an artist’s work bears no resemblance to their lives.
For Shannon Bonatakis, the parallels of her work, her process and her life all intertwine neatly. It’s as though this skill of producing visual art grew up along side her, just as she was growing – upward and toward the sky of the future. As a child, she drew incessantly. She drew whatever she could. She found obsession with trying to recreate, on paper, what she saw in her daily life. For Bonatakis, drawing was always an escape – a safe place to go. The paper as her mirror of the life sprouting from the soil of the earth all around her.
Bonatakis is unpretentious. She is quiet. Shy. She is not a socialite. Even in an interview she’s reserved about what she imparts. She will not let you in very quickly. In this, her work is a shield, but it is also her mouthpiece, for her words and her stories. And she’s probably right: all you need to know about her is laced in the work that she creates.
Examining her work before and after I talk with her and, I get it. It's all in her work. She didn't need to tell me anymore. As a result I have been able to draw my own picture of her: as that kind of artist which is endlessly hovering over her sketchbook; finding solace in the quiet pages in-between, in supreme delight. And while I have not seen where Bonatakis lives, or how she lives – I have seen snippets of her journals. These snapshots into her world are revealing. They speak of a cultivated skill set and a fantastic imagination.
As a child Bonatakis filled up her head with the outside world’s landscapes and subjects. Then, when her technique and aptitude rounded itself out she began looking inside and creating the world’s of her imagination. Where the external world once spoke to her, the fantastic landscapes of her inner eye began to lead her in the direction that she has now found herself.
Bonatakis is not interested in making big statements with her work. She doesn’t explore sociocultural concerns nor politics. Instead, her work is all about character driven sequences. Her characters are feminine – and it is through these curves that Bonatakis tells her stories: Of phobias. Of her life. And of seeing the world as the child that she once was, and in part, still is.
Bonatakis went to college for illustration. And while her imagery and the stories she tells lean toward fine art disciplines – she still considers herself an illustrator. She will not give you a thesis on each of her pieces. She is very comfortable not saying too much and letting her viewers take what meanings that they will from her work.
In one of her final classes in art school, Bonatakis was asked to answer the question of what is art to her. Her answer consisted of about four pages which explained the fact that she didn’t know. In this I do appreciate her unpretentiousness. This anecdote is a illustration of Bonatakis’ central notion of “just doing” instead of talking about it.
For Bonatakis art is simply the expression of what people want to make. It doesn’t have to be overanalyzed. Art doesn’t need to be critical. Art can be as simple as people just enjoying themselves and using their talent.
And while I would like a grand essay on all of her works – explaining the phobias and the characters and the stories – the bottom line is that visual art is about aesthetics. And Bonatakis’ aesthetics are gorgeous.
Her aptitude with colors and compositions; the intelligence she exerts with her feminine curves and shapes are smart.
While Shannon Bonatakis could hide behind her work, and while she is reluctant and shy – she will let you in beyond her paintings. She will admit that she is not very spontaneous in any facet of her life. She will admit that she is very methodical and likes her routines. In searching to find the analogies between an artist’s work and their life, there is yet another correlation here. Bonatakis’ working process is very methodical. She works her colors out. Her feminine characters are built out of very thin layers of paint. In total, she may spend up to 200 diligent hours on a single piece.
She holds a day job where she uses her cultivated visual and spatial skills as an artist. She has illustrated children’s books. She just showed at Joy Engine in Boulder. She has more shows and book projects forthcoming. Andthis is just the beginning.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next opening in Bonatakis’ world, here: www.shannonbonatakis.com.